Alexander Lukashenko, the despotic president of Belarus, spent four hours at the KGB jail in Minsk on Saturday talking to several leaders of the political opposition and would-be presidential candidates.

All male, the 11 present included Viktor Babariko, a former banker who had intended to stand in this August’s presidential poll but was jailed on trumped-up charges.

It was not clear if the husband of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the opposition leader, was present at the meeting. A popular blogger, Sergei had intended to stand against Lukashenko before being blocked and jailed.

Commenting on news of the meeting in jail, Tikhanovskaya said: “With this meeting, Lukashenko recognised the existence of political prisoners whom he previously dismissed as criminals… Today’s event is a result of our pressure.”

On Friday, Lukashenko claimed that Tikhanovskaya had left Belarus of her own free will immediately after the August 7 poll and he had sent the sum of $15,000 to help cover her expenses.

PHOTO: Sergei Tikhanovsky earlier this year Uladz Hrydzin (RFE/RL)